Five Weeks in a Balloon by Jules Verne

Cover of Five Weeks in a Balloon
Cover of Five Weeks in a Balloon

Five Weeks in a Balloon was in the same volume as Around The World in Eighty Days and was Verne’s first published work. You can tell that it’s by the same author due to the attention to detail, masses of geographical and scientific data and style of writing dialogue.

However, it’s obviously not as polished as his later works. It does labour quite a bit and gets buried under its own source material. Maybe it’s simply that I’ve not been to Africa (other than Nigeria) where the novel is set, or that the Africa of today bears virtually no resemblance to the one of the mid-19th Century when the novel is set. I don’t know, but it just didn’t grab me the same way that Around The World did.

The characters in it are fairly recognisable. We have a clever doctor who invents the balloon of the title and a manservant who gets them out of scrapes while being utterly devoted to him and also the the other “gentleman” aboard who is a skilled hunter. In a way it reminds me of the cast of Conan Doyle‘s The Lost World gelled with that of Verne’s own Around The World.

It’s still enjoyable, though limited in scope by the very centrpiece – the balloon in which they are carried. Of course, the randomness of air currents is a superb tool for an author. Even sticking within nature’s rules, air currents are tremendously fickle so can chop, change or disappear entirely at the writer’s will.

Oh, don’t read this if you’re American as the infamous “n” word appears multiple times to describe the inhabitants of the continent. For those of you wanting to hunt down and kill Mr Verne for his terrible racist attitute, please remember he was writing in an era when this word was utterly acceptable (or at least when everyone was racist)… and he’s been dead since 1905.

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Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

Around the World in Eighty Days
Around the World in Eighty Days

Not the recent Jackie Chan and Steve Coogan film, the original Around the World in Eighty Days novel which I picked up in Sihanoukville. It’s a 2-book volume with Five Weeks in a Balloon also included, which I’m reading currently.

Now I’m not one to rail on about certain books, in particular anything that people call “classics”, but AtWiED is simply a joy to read. The language is very flowery in places, though that’s pretty usual for the period in which it was written, but the language used is simply fantastic.

The story’s a little weak, to be honest, though it does carry well. What is noticeable is that events which would take forty pages in a modern-day book are breezed past in two here. Verne’s way of writing is similar to a friend telling you a tale they witnessed, though where he doesn’t spare words are in the descriptive parts. And that’s where the best stuff is.

Obviously, the story is about a great journey and the means of traveling along that course – something I’m fortunate to be experiencing right now – but this book’s set well over 100 years ago and the methods of transportation are far behind what we have these days. Also, the ways of life, cultures and so forth are vastly different. Verne’s strength is a seemingly vast knowledge of what he’s writing about. Whether he traveled himself, or he just had access to a superb library I don’t know. But you just get the feeling he’s enthused about the places and peoples he writes about.

The chapters are short enough for you to sneak one in here and there so it’s a fairly quick read. Perhaps not one for people just learning English as the wordings are often very dated, though I can imagine children being enthralled up if the person reading it to them is emotive enough (and patient enough with the inevitable “what’s a….?” questions).

One thing I will say after reading it is “who the hell cast Coogan and Chan in a film version?” I can maybe, just, perhaps see Coogan in the Fogg role. But it still doesn’t seem right. Chan, however… well, he’s not actually even remotely passable as a Frenchman of the late 19th century, is he? He fits all the other characteristics for Passepartout, but is appearance doesn’t quite match up.

Definitely check this one out.

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